Kaon (Practical Demonology)

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Kaon (Practical Demonology)

Postby Kappa » Sat Jul 28, 2018 4:40 pm

This is the setting of Practical Demonology, also known as demon porn dream tag on my tumblr.

The setting is an Earth in more or less the modern day, but with openly available magic. Nothing is masqueraded, although some things are obscure.

Magic is divided into a few domains:

  • Infernal magic has to do with the place humans know as Hell, and its inhabitants, known to humans as demons.
  • Alchemy has to do with magical interactions between otherwise-mundane substances, and changing one thing into another.
  • Enchantment has to do with imparting magical properties and behaviours to otherwise mundane objects.
  • Conjuration has to do with the creation of something out of nothing.
  • There are also miscellaneous other bits of magic that haven't been packaged up into neatly themed groups. Glamours and illusions exist, and so do scrying and lie detection and truesight.

So, let's start with the big question: what is Hell, and what are demons?

Hell is a place of near-infinite alchemic malleability. Any part of Hell not tended to by demons will by default be filled with a soft red fog, and that fog is the single most transmutable thing in the world. You can shape it by application of pure will, without needing any kind of proper alchemic process. Condensed into a liquid, it defaults to being viscous and glossy, usually a shiny grey colour resembling graphite; as a solid, it has no default characteristics, being molded by the desires and expectations of whoever is working with it.

Demons, then, begin as disembodied souls, and create their bodies out of the fog of Hell. They call this ambient substance kaon.

Besides that, the other major thing about demons is their relationship to names.

First, the part that's more or less known and understood by any human interested in the subject:

  • If you introduce yourself to a demon - by any name, it doesn't have to be yours according to any particular rule, you just have to be deliberately giving them something to call you - that name gives the demon a link to your soul, which they can use to read or influence your thoughts, find you wherever you may go, and bring you back from the dead.
  • If you allow a demon to name you - either explicitly offering them the opportunity, or just getting in the habit of answering to something they call you - that name gives them a link to your body, which they can use to examine and alter it similarly to how they examine and alter their own.

Descriptions and titles technically don't count as names for this purpose, but there are grey areas, which makes interacting with demons kind of a dicey prospect. Also, a sufficiently powerful demon can alter your body or manipulate your soul without having to bother with a name, but the name makes it easier.

Once a particular demon has a name for you, that name belongs to them. You can freely introduce yourself by it to other demons, and answer to it when they use it; it can't be used against you any further than it already has. If you for some reason want to give a demon your name when they've already named you, or let them name you when you've already given them your name, you have to use a separate name the second time.

Demons also have 'names' of their own, which are a valuable tool in bargaining with them. A demon's name is not a word or sound; it's a sort of metaphysical handle or channel, a direct magical link to the foundation of their being. If you have a demon's name, you understand a bit about who they are as a person, and can accurately read their intentions and meanings when they interact with you.

This means that, although technically there is no overt magical enforcement of bargains with demons, in practice it's very hard for a demon to trick a summoner into agreeing to a deal on which the demon has no intention of following through. They can play word games with the letter of an agreement, but their name will advertise that they are doing so, although it won't necessarily reveal all the details of their interpretation. Bargaining with demons is therefore tricky but possible, and if you do find a demon who's willing to negotiate in good faith with no tricks, their name will tell you so and you can take that into account.

A summoner obtains a demon's name in the process of summoning the demon. (There are ways to summon demons that won't give you the demon's name, but they are widely considered laughably stupid, and no one has seriously used them in hundreds of years.) Demon-summoning, as a process, goes like this:

  • You draw out a complex circle - chalk is the traditional medium, but other things work; once upon a time blood was fashionable - and use magic to activate it. A demon appears. Depending what circle you used, they might be a specific demon you deliberately called, or just somebody who happened to catch your generic summons.
  • (To call on a specific demon, you need a summoning key: their true name, or a spoken name they use, or a physical item with their magic in it, or a human they have a name for.)
  • If you weren't an idiot about it, the circle will have a summoner's crescent attached, where you will be standing, and the moment the demon arrives you will have their name. The magic of the summoner's crescent assures that you hold the demon's name as long as you stand there. Once you step away, you might lose your grip on the name, or it might stick with you.
  • If you used a properly reinforced circle, the demon will be unable to leave it or use magic across its boundary... unless they're very powerful, in which case you may be in big trouble. No circle is one hundred percent demon-proof.
  • If the circle is significantly more powerful than the demon, you might be able to use it to force them to return to Hell on command; if not, you'll have to wait for them to go home voluntarily.
  • If you keep hold of a demon's name permanently, other magic users can sense that connection on you if they look closely. This will have a negative effect on your reputation. You can also use it to communicate with the demon across any distance, as long as the two of you are in the same world, but hopefully that won't come up, because you really shouldn't be leaving a demon sitting around on Earth long enough for you to wander off and need a magic telephone to keep talking to them, and you definitely shouldn't be letting them take you back to Hell for a visit.

A little-known fact about demons is that they can do the same things to each other using spoken names that they can to humans... but if a human bestows a spoken name on a demon, that name is now safe for that demon to use in all contexts; the human can't use it against them the way another demon could, and no other demon can either. It can, however, be used as a summoning key to call on that demon in particular, more easily than anything but their true name, and much easier to distribute. Demons therefore find it very useful to have humans name them.

Transportation between Earth and Hell gets a little complicated, but can be boiled down to some basic principles:

  • A demon who is in Hell can only travel to Earth by catching a ride with a summoning circle.
  • A human who is in Hell can only return to Earth if a demon deliberately sends them. Any demon can do this but it's much easier if the demon has a name for the person one way or another, and easiest if they have both kinds.
  • A demon who is on Earth can return to Hell at will anytime they like, and bring along as much stuff (humans included) as they can physically carry, plus an arbitrary number of souls. (They can also be forced to return, but it's difficult, and usually requires a weak demon in a strong circle.)
  • A human who is on Earth can only visit Hell if brought there by a demon.

Also, because of Hell's underlying alchemic malleability, it's kind of hard on any mortal artifact that requires precision manufacture or relies on the behaviour of anything you can't see with a good magnifying glass. Computers will stop working almost immediately, unable to keep track of their electrons; old-fashioned clocks will break down after a few hours, maybe days if they're especially big, and even if you construct a clock big enough to keep ticking when its microscopic details are shifting moment to moment, it will keep very bad time.

Demons are somewhat difficult to harm and extremely difficult to kill. The more powerful the demon, the harder it is to separate them from the body they worked so hard to create; and even once you've disembodied them, they can potentially just reembody themselves. Demons therefore might fight each other a lot but will very rarely try to destroy each other.

What about that 'bringing you back from the dead' thing, then? What normally happens when a human dies, and how does demonic soul manipulation change that equation?

The afterlife, by default, feels like spacing out really hard and losing track of time. You can't see or hear or feel or even really think, but you don't have the experience of struggling with any of that; you just drift vaguely, half-awake, for an amount of time that always feels like it could've been just a few minutes even when it has in fact been several thousand years. It's not pleasant but it's not really unpleasant either. It's boring but it doesn't leave you with enough time perception to get around to being bored by it.

A demon who is physically present when a person dies can capture that person's soul. Holding onto your soul this way doesn't give them the same kind of permanent connection that they get if you introduce yourself to them, but they can conjure you a fresh body and put your soul into that body, and then they will have about as much control over your new body as they do over any other object they've conjured, which is less than they'd get if you let them name you but more than you probably want them to have. (Or they could form your new body by other means, but most of them are going to want the access and control that conjuration gives them.)

(A powerful enough demon can skip waiting for you to die and just rip your soul right out of your body.)

After you die, your soul is by default just sort of floating around the mortal world in no particular location, theoretically accessible by sufficiently sophisticated magic but in practical terms beyond the reach of any known force... except a demon who has a name-link to that soul. A demon with a name-link to your soul can call it to them at any time as long as it's not currently embodied, and again with sufficient power can rip it out of your body without waiting for it to come loose on its own.

Carrying a soul around without a name-link takes a little bit of active attention, but not very much, and it's possible to enchant a container that will keep a secure hold on a soul without you having to think about it.

Demonic name-links aren't the only possible avenue of resurrection. Mortal necromancy is an understudied discipline, but it's theoretically possible to invent it; and even without a name-link, a demon can find a dead soul given the cooperation of someone who knew the person very well when they were alive, although this is a specialized skill that most demons don't bother to pick up because it's really difficult to coerce a mortal into helping you capture their dead friends.

Human souls play an important role in demonic culture. Collecting souls is a combination status symbol and source of entertainment. Soul-theft - kidnapping a human from another demon's collection - is considered one of the highest crimes, second only to unprovoked murder. After all, physical objects of any kind are cheap in Hell, where conjuration and transmutation are easy. Burn down someone's house, and they can always build it again; but if you steal a human, that human is gone.

In resolving ownership conflicts about humans, priority goes to the demon who first brought that human to Hell, and whoever they give or trade that human to if applicable, and so on down the line. But ambiguities arise when one demon claims to have brought a human to Hell while a different demon has a name-link to that human's soul; and even more so when multiple demons have the link. (Name-links to the body are given little weight.)

In practical terms, if two demons each have a name-link to the same human's soul, they can keep tearing that human out of each other's hands forever if they're both strong enough to separate soul from body at a distance. Sometimes these disagreements are resolved by neutral arbitration, but sometimes they just keep going indefinitely.

Most demons are going to be very reluctant to give up any of the souls in their collection, but it's possible to convince them sometimes, if you offer them something of sufficient value in return.

Okay, what about the rest of the magic?

Transmutation and conjuration are both much easier for demons than humans; enchantment is about the same for either. Humans have an advantage at 'natural alchemy' (alchemy that involves combining existing materials, rather than straight transmutation-by-will of one thing into another) because the mortal world is full of lots and lots of kinds of existing materials, and Hell natively has exactly one.

Any conjured object will permanently retain a connection to its conjuror. You can always recognize things you've conjured, and manipulate their physical form in ways that resemble transmutation or telekinesis. Conjuration also doesn't tend to produce very useful raw materials, because conjured objects are often subtly unreal in ways that make them fall apart or behave unexpectedly if processed extensively.

Natural alchemy is an interesting subject because it's almost entirely about the mundane physical structure and composition of materials... but not quite, and that extra level of detail can make a big difference. Chemistry doesn't care where you got those atoms, but natural alchemy can tell the difference between salt that's been buried underground and salt that's been bathed in moonlight.

Enchantment is big and complicated and hard to summarize. Most commercial enchantments are essentially automations: enchant a car rather than dealing with a messy gas-fueled combustion engine, enchant factory equipment rather than needing somebody to operate it from up close, that general caliber of thing.
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